The Latest: US task force chief concerned about gatherings

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— Task force coordinator warns about lack of social distancing.

— U.S. likely to ban travel from hard-hit Brazil.

— Ohio official says prisons must reopen even with high death toll.

— French sunbathe at La Grande Motte beach in cordoned-off spaces.

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WASHINGTON — White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx says she’s “very concerned” that people going outdoors for the Memorial Day weekend aren’t maintaining 6 feet of social distancing.

She was responding to reports showing people crowding at beaches.

Noting that people with no symptoms could unwittingly spread the coronavirus, Birx said people need to wear masks in public if they don’t socially distance because “you don’t know who’s infected.”

As states loosen stay-at-home orders, Birx also declined to say whether the country may need to close down again if the U.S. is hit by a second wave of infections in the fall. President Donald Trump insisted last week “we are not closing” again.

On Sunday, Birx said: “We’re trying to understand during this period of coming out of the closure: How do we maintain openness and safety? And I think that’s what we’re going to be learning through May, June and July.”

She spoke on “Fox News Sunday” and ABC’s “This Week.”

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. government is expected to announce a ban on travel from Brazil due to the spread of coronavirus in Latin America’s hardest-hit country.

National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien says the U.S. wants to take “every step necessary” to protect the American people.

President Donald Trump already has banned travel from the United Kingdom, Europe and China, all of which have been hit hard by the virus. On Wednesday, Trump said he was considering barring entry to flights from Brazil.

O’Brien said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he expects any ban would be temporary.

Brazil reported more than 347,000 COVID-19 cases as of Friday, second behind the U.S. in the number of infections, according to a Johns Hopkins University count.

Brazil also has recorded more than 22,000 deaths, fifth-most in the world. There have been more than 96,000 U.S. deaths.

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he’s doing fine after taking a two-week course of an unproven malaria drug for COVID-19, declaring, “I’m still here.”

Trump was addressing his disclosure last week that he was taking hydroxychloroquine and a zinc supplement. He said the regimen was meant to help prevent infection after two White House staffers tested positive for the coronavirus. Trump has spent weeks pushing the drug as a potential treatment or prophylaxis for COVID-19 against the cautionary advice of many of his administration’s top medical professionals.

The drug has the potential to cause significant side effects in some patients and has not been shown to combat the new coronavirus.

Speaking in an interview aired on the Sunday news program “Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson,” Trump said he just finished the course of drug treatments and “to the best of my knowledge, here I am.”

He added that if it’s something that helps, “that’s all I want.”

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RIO DE JANEIRO — One of the architects of Brazil’s battle against the coronavirus pandemic has resigned.

The departure of epidemiologist Wanderson de Oliveira adds to turmoil in a Health Ministry whose recommendations for restrictions to limit the disease have often clashed with President Jair Bolsonaro’s calls to open the economy.

De Oliveira said he would leave his post on Monday. He had initially offered his resignation last month, but stayed on at the request of then-Minister Luiz Mandetta, who shortly afterward was fired by Bolsonaro.

Mandetta’s replacement, Nelson Teich, resigned on May 15 after less than a month on the job and on Saturday declined a request to serve as adviser to the new minister, Army Gen. Eduardo Pazuello.

De Oliveira had been one of the public faces of the campaign against the pandemic, presenting statistics and recommendations at daily news conferences.

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s national security adviser says he thinks leaders of the world’s major economies “would love to get out of their offices and meet in person and plan the post-COVID world” at a summit Trump is considering hosting in the United States in June.

Trump had scheduled the Group of Seven summit for June 10-12 at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. But in March, he announced he was canceling the annual meeting because of the pandemic and that the leaders would confer by video conference instead.

His national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, tells CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the meeting would be a chance for the leaders to “decide how to get their economies reopened and how we can work together to make sure that we all get out of this COVID crisis and bring back health and prosperity to our peoples.”

O’Brien says “we’d be looking at the end of June at this point.” He says “so far we’ve got a great response” from the invitations that have been extended. O’Brien says U.S. officials will ensure that “everybody’s tested. We’ll make sure it’s a safe environment if the leaders can come here.”

O’Brien says he thinks “we’re getting very close to the peak, if we’re not at the peak already in Washington” for the coronavirus outbreak and that “if the situation permits it, and we think it will, we’d love to have a G-7 in-person.”

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio has lost more inmates to COVID-19 than any other state, but the state prisons director says its prisons nonetheless must begin reopening to accommodate a slow return to business — and to crime.

The department has begun accepting new inmates from jails again and must soon resume the normal process of transferring inmates when necessary, Annette Chambers-Smith, head of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said in an interview this week.

“The whole of the community is reopening, so when you reopen the community, you’re going to have more laws broken also,” she said. “So really when you restart the community, the entire process restarts.”

More than 600 employees systemwide have tested positive, along with more than 4,500 inmates. Of those, 66 inmates have died of confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19, with deaths spread across eight institutions.

Two guards and two nurses have died.

Ohio has recorded the most deaths of prisoners from COVID-19 and ranks second only to Tennessee in cases per 100,000 inmates, according to an analysis by The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization. Ohio also has the fourth-highest prisoner death rate.

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BERLIN — Austria’s president has apologized after police found him at a Vienna restaurant later than restaurants are permitted to be open.

The Krone newspaper reported that police found President Alexander Van der Bellen and his wife in the Italian restaurant’s garden during a routine check after midnight on Sunday, with drinks on their table. Restaurants must close at 11 p.m. under rules that allowed them to reopen this month.

Police confirmed Van der Bellen’s presence.

The Austria Press Agency reported that Van der Bellen expressed regret. He said: “I went to eat with two friends and my wife for the first time since the lockdown. We were talking away and unfortunately lost sight of the time.”

He added: “I am truly sorry. It was a mistake.”

Austria’s president has a largely ceremonial role. The government of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz sets the coronavirus rules.

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BERLIN — A German official says the number of confirmed coronavirus infections following a Baptist community’s service in Frankfurt has risen to at least 107.

News agency dpa reported that Hesse state’s health minister, Kai Klose, said Sunday those infected live in Frankfurt and three other counties in the region.

The deputy head of the Evangelical Christian Baptist congregation has said that the service took place on May 10 and it complied with rules under which authorities allowed religious services to resume at the beginning of the month — including a 1.5 meter (5-foot) distance between worshippers and the provision of disinfectant.

Frankfurt health officials say most of those infected appear to have caught the virus after rather than at the service.

Germany started easing lockdown restrictions on April 20. So far, new coronavirus infections have continued to decline overall.

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LA GRANDE MOTTE, France — Grateful French families flocked to the beach at La Grande Motte on the Mediterranean shore Sunday, swimming and sunbathing in areas carefully marked to keep them a safe distance from others.

Cordons of ropes and wooden stakes were neatly spaced out across the sand, giving each visitor or group an 8-square-meter (86-square-foot) space of their own.

Reservations are free but required, and there is already a two-day waiting list. Those lucky enough to get a spot for the four-day weekend around Thursday’s Christian holiday Ascension relished the opportunity, frolicking beneath a summer-like sun.

Elsewhere in France beaches have also reopened, but only for individual sports or walks, and visitors are not allowed to sit or lie down. La Grande Motte says it was the first town to put in place new social distancing measures allowing other activities to resume.

In the French capital this weekend, Parisians soaked up the sun along the embankments of the Seine River and lounged on ledges outside the Tuileries Gardens, still shuttered like all of the city’s parks as the city gradually emerges from confinement.

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BERLIN — A German state governor’s proposal to scrap blanket coronavirus restrictions in his region is drawing a mixed response.

Bodo Ramelow, the governor of the eastern state of Thuringia, said Saturday that he hopes to lift the remaining statewide lockdown rules on June 6 and replace them with “a concept of recommendations and fighting COVID-19 locally if infection figures rise.”

It’s not entirely clear yet what that would mean. While Ramelow’s proposal draw some praise, there was criticism from the mayor of one of the state’s biggest cities, Jena, which was the first in Germany to require people to wear face masks in some situations.

Mayor Thomas Nitzsche compared the proposed change in a Facebook post to “entering a mine field.”

In Germany, the state governments are responsible for imposing and lifting lockdown restrictions. All 16 states currently have coronavirus rules.

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LONDON — Toilet experts say urinals may be consigned to history as part of measures to make public conveniences safe for the post-coronavirus world.

Raymond Martin, managing director of the British Toilet Association, says business and governments need to adapt public toilets to make them infection-resistant, adding technology such as foot-operated flushes and sensor-activated taps.

Hospitality industry groups in Britain have also proposed replacing rows of urinals with cubicle-only washrooms for both men and women.

Martin told the Sunday Times that transforming toilets would be expensive, but “we want to bring back life to this country, and toilets are a vital part of that.”

He said “tourist offices all over the country should be telling visitors: ‘Come see our castle, come see our beaches, come see our state-of-the-art toilets.’”

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VATICAN CITY — Well-spaced faithful have gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the first time in months for the traditional Sunday papal blessing.

They cast their gaze at the window where the pope normally addresses the faithful.

Pope Francis has been delivering the blessing from inside the Apostolic library during the epidemic.

Francis recalled his scheduled visit on Sunday to the Naples area to draw attention to environmental damage caused by toxic-waste dumping by the mob.

The visit — canceled during the pandemic — was timed to mark the fifth anniversary of his ecological manifesto, and the pope announced a year of reflection on his 2015 environmental encyclical, ‘’Praised Be.’’

Francis came to the window and waved to the people in the piazza at the end of the blessing.

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MOSCOW — Russia has reported its highest one-day coronavirus death toll but also the lowest number of new infections in three weeks.

The national coronavirus task force said Sunday that 3,541 people have died from the virus, an increase of 153. The previous high was 150.

The number of new infection cases was 8,599. Daily infection tallies of more than 11,000 were reported for several days in May. Overall, Russia has recorded 344,481 infection cases.

Russia’s comparatively low mortality rate has raised eyebrows in the West, with some suggesting the country’s government may be under-reporting virus-related deaths and manipulating the statistics. Russian officials deny the allegations and attribute the low numbers to the effectiveness of the measures taken to curb the spread of the outbreak.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Categories: National News

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